My Game of the Year thing for 2016 isn’t going to have any categories for genres or anything even though a lot of great games of various types came out this year. I guess I just didn’t have the time or willingness to split things up like that this time around. One thing that must be addressed though is the landscape of shooters that showed up in 2016.
It’s probably one of the best and most varied lineups of shooters to ever come out in a single year. It seems like we got a good or great shooter of every “era” or “type” this year. The Doom-like shooter came back, some good third person shooters came out, a new multiplayer arena shooter is beloved by most everyone, the blockbuster military shooters this year were probably better than they have been in a long time, and some nice things even went on in the tactical shooter world in 2016.
First though I wanna go ahead and admit I’m not going to talk about Overwatch. It seems to be the overall industry favorite for GOTY, but unfortunately I don’t have that much interest in multiplayer games right now. I messed around with Overwatch a bit during the beta, and while I appreciate its characters and art, it’s just not the kind of game that draws me in. I decided not to play Battlefield 1 so I don’t know about it. I bought a copy of The Division but haven’t even installed it.
I’m also not going to talk that much today about Uncharted 4, which seems to be the other most commonly picked GOTY for 2016. Oh I immensely enjoyed Uncharted 4. I’m probably going to at least mention it in my final GOTY post, but its shooting action isn’t what really stands out about it in my memory. I don’t think that was a bad part of the game at all, just not really a stand-out thing when you compare it to the rest of the game as well as the rest of this year’s shooters.
DOOM, well, brought back Doom. It took an incredible step towards revitalizing and modernizing the style of first person shooter the original 1992 game ushered in, and is a fantastic game in its own right.
This game is everything I’ve been lauding about the Doom era of shooters in previous posts, presented in a modernized form: an increasingly varied set of enemies with their own patterns you learn, and the ability to carry an entire arsenal of weapons concerned more with being fun than following the military game formula. Both of these things encourage a style of fast, close-quarters combat that big budget shooters forgot.
That fast, snappy gameplay is possible because of how smoothly DOOM runs despite how gorgeous it looks. Maybe it’s because I’m running the game on a GTX 1070, but I don’t think any other game in 2016 simultaneously looks and runs as well as DOOM does.
But that’s not all. That kind of combat is what caused Rock Paper Shotgun to give Devil Daggers its top spot for GOTY this year. What a lot of other new Doom-likes have missed though is the complex and deep level design filled with secrets to explore. I probably spent as much time exploring DOOM’s levels as I spent killing demons in them. I think that depth, the secrets I found while exploring, and other things like SnapMap make DOOM my favorite overall package out of all the shooters I played in 2016.
Earlier this fall the Titanfall 2 campaign surprised a lot of critics. I’m not sure what everybody else expected, but what we got was one of the sharpest and most creative military shooter campaigns in years.
Titanfall 2 feels like a version of Call of Duty that was allowed to stretch out with crazier concepts: crazier scenarios in its levels, crazier weapons, and crazier tools for players to use. It’s still built around the skeleton of COD or all the games that copied it, but allows itself and the player to have more fun. There are times when I thought Titanfall 2 was the next level of the COD-a-like, but maybe it’s just an interesting branch of the formula that dominated first person shooters for nearly a decade.
Maybe Titanfall 2’s obviously lower budget than Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare gave developer Respawn Entertainment less risk to hold it back creatively. The game has the humility of something from 2004 before AAA game budgets got so big. Maybe the former COD developers at Respawn just had a lot of creative juice built up. The last singleplayer campaign these people worked on was Modern Warfare 2 in 2010.
I haven’t touched the rest of what’s included in Titanfall 2, but I did buy the game in anticipation of what Respawn might add in later updates.
If nothing else, developer The Coalition has proven it can make a Gears of War game. Gears of War 4’s controls and combat are just as fun to operate as Epic Games’ original three entries in the series were. The Coalition definitely got the fundamentals down.
Everything else The Coalition did with the formula on its own at the very least provides a new Gears game that’s fresh enough. The new robotic enemies offer a change of pace from the Locusts, the set pieces in Gears 4 are varied and well-crafted, and all the new weapons are fun in new ways. I just don’t know if all those new set pieces and mechanics hold up to the variety and pacing that Gears 3 accomplished.
Even though this counts as way under the radar, I had to at least talk a little bit about the new ArmA 3 expansion and my new favorite mod which launched this year. ArmA 3, and more specifically “Dynamic Recon Ops” might be the game I spent the most time playing in 2016.
The official campaign in the new Apex expansion is okay. I think its missions are neat but it makes some big design decisions that probably got mixed reactions in the ArmA community. As usual with additions to ArmA 3, the real value in Apex is in the new assets it adds for everyone to play with: the new map, units, weapons, and vehicles. The whole tropical thing is a first for the franchise, and the dense rainforests change a lot about how you play ArmA.
“Dynamic Recon Ops” is mod that takes very good advantage of those additions. A lot of ArmA 3 mods are really just random mission generators because the game’s basic building blocks make for good systemic gameplay when slammed together in different ways, but DRO does it in a more measured way than any other I’ve seen, gently nudging its random generator in ways specifically designed to make missions more exciting and unpredictable. The speed of its development throughout the year has also been impressive. I had to take a break from DRO a few months ago but the update notes I’ve read since then suggest it’s gotten changes more drastic than what I witnessed while playing it.
And I’ve actually thought little about what 2017 is going to be like for shooters. If Resident Evil 7 counts I guess that’s going to be the earliest one to really watch. It looks like more of a return to “real” survival horror but some may technically count it as a shooter too. I guess what I’m really keeping an eye on is Ghost Recon Wildlands. I hope it continues the current trend of systemic gameplay and open level design we’ve seen in some recent action games.
- All the good space-related things that happened in 2016: https://www.wired.com/2016/12/dwarf-planets-water-plumes-bouncy-castles-orbit-best-space-stuff-2016/
- Apparently the Norfolk Prison Debate Society is back: http://www.npr.org/2016/12/27/506314053/after-half-a-century-inmates-resurrect-the-norfolk-prison-debating-society?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news